On display in the Winter Solstice Exhibition at the Griffin Museum of Photography, Winchester, Massachusetts, from December 8 through January 1.
Blackstone Canal, Uxbridge, Massachusetts – 2016.
It is very hard if you’re out in nature in New England on a routine basis to not develop a fascination with herons. These wonderfully large and patient birds are actually quite easy to photograph. Working stiffs, they only get annoyed with you if you get so close that you screw with their fishing. Can’t say that I blame them. Their markings and scars give each bird a distinctive purpose. For whatever reason, it has been a great year for heron along the Blackstone River. I thought I share a few environmental and reflective portraits as the season wanes.
Blackstone River Heritage Park, Upton, Massachusetts
Blackstone Valley Bicycle Path, Millbury, Massachusetts
Woonsocket Falls, Woonsocket, Rhode Island
Blackstone Valley Bicycle Path, Millbury, Massachusetts
One of my favorite books of all time was Time and Again, by the great Jack Finney. The book tells the story of a young man who with a bit of assistance from the government (clandestine of course) was able to engage in time travel. No equipment required though. All he had to do was make himself open to the experience. Time passes but it doesn’t really pass. It is still there if we know how to relate to it. The book’s star was residing, at the request of his coconspirators, at Manhattan’s famous Dakota building. After quite some time trying to figure out how to be open to the experience, and many false starts, he simply woke up one morning, went outside and it was the later 19th century. He had taken up the past’s invitation to visit.
It reminded me of what I try to see when visiting a place with the past. I do wish I could visit it for real (of course, I’m sure I would have no idea how to cope but what fun is it to think about that). Sometimes you can find a door or at least a window to the past, an object, an artifact, a story, a book. Walking along what was once the Blackstone Canal ins Uxbridge, MA it’s easy to hear history’s rumblings. In the Blackstone Heritage Corridor Park you’re walking along the towpath after all. A team of mules pulled the canal boats along the journey from Worcester to Providence. If it’s quiet, it is easy to ponder what it was like when the towpath was actually in use, in the early 1800’s. For me, one of the windows into that state of reverie are the intense reflections that can be seen there on a calm day.. They are intense enough to be disorienting and I offer you a small collection here. I resisted the temptation to turn them upside down. You’re welcome.
I’ve mentioned here that my current project focus is on the Blackstone River. For those who don’t know, the Blackstone flows from Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island. It’s strategic importance as a source of power led to rather extreme levels of both entrepreneurship and exploitation spanning nearly two hundred years. It remains in content with humanity even as interest in its natural potential grows. That tension is most acutely visible, to me at least, along a two mile stretch of the river in Millbury and Worcester, Massachusetts. There the River contents with a super highway and a very active freight railroad line. Being in the city, it also contends with city life and the best and worst that the city existence has to offer. Here’s a portfolio of images from my travels there over the past year.
I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving. We did, it was great spending time with family as always. I had much to be thankful for this year, including a more experimental attitude. Why not?
I’ve been exploring the Blackstone River area in Massachusetts over the last few months. It is striking just how much psychological as well as environmental territory the River covers. Though it remains quite polluted from centuries of exploitation, stretches of the River are quite beautiful and natural. Other stretches are, more complex. No stretch of the River though, at least that I have traveled, requires more effort to understand than the Blackstone Valley Bike Trail in Worcester, Massachusetts, where the River originates. Along this two mile or so stretch you will see the River, a super highway (Route 146), an active freight train yard and line, as well as legacy tracks, a Walmart and Sam’s Club, trees being cut by a beaver, beautiful small falls and rapids, trash and signs that say stay away from the water for health reasons. It’s all right there. Nature and civilization crash into one another at top speed in places and this is one of those locations.
I have photographed there for months, searching for the right way to capture the feel of such a complex place. I’d used most every technological trick I could think of, but ultimately wasn’t satisfied. I decided to go back and try again, this time with black and white film. Digital is just capable of making pictures that are too perfect for this location it seemed to me. Nothing about this location says “perfection.” This work, like this location, is incomplete and some of the images you see here may not survive the next cut. This is where things stand though at the moment.
Shooting on film is interesting of course. I realize that the look can be replicated in software using a digital means of capture. But that somehow doesn’t seem quite right at times. What is really different about shooting on film is the process. You do indeed slow down. You have to for economic reasons if nothing else. For a time, you have to step away from the technological (rat) race. It’s quite refreshing.
Tech Notes: Shot on Kodak TMax and Ilford Delta films using a Nikon F6. The later, for my money, remains the finest 35 mm camera ever made. Negatives scanned on a Nikon 5000 film scanner and finalized in Lightroom/Photoshop (You can’t really escape the technology can you.)